Novelist Seth Harwood Gets A Book Deal With Help Of Podcasting Community

May 5th, 2009 | By | Category: Audio Podcasting, Making Money with Podcasts, The New Media Update

Audio podcaster and novelist Seth Harwood is pulling out all the stops, celebrating today.

No, not the typical americanized Cinco de Mayo revelry. Today commemorates the publication of Harwood’s crime novel, Jack Wakes Up, by Random House.

This is his first novel to be published by a major publishing house, but Harwood is no stranger to publishing. He has been serializing his novels, and sharing them, via podcast, with his readers.

While Jack Wakes Up is the first traditionally-published installment of Harwood’s Jack Palms series, Harwood has actually written and published as a podcast three Jack Palms books, the latest being a “prequel” story.

We tracked down Harwood earlier this week, to talk about today’s book release, and about the role that podcasting played in his current success.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: You have a lot of pieces of fiction to your name. Have you always been a writer?

Seth Harwood: Strangely enough, no. I was an economics major. I didn’t really get into English and literature and writing until my last year or two of school. After school, I worked in New York in commodities trading.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: So how did you get from dealing in commodities to writing crime fiction?

Seth Harwood: While I was in New York, I started writing more – working on a novel. Once I had a habit of writing on a regular basis, I was pretty hooked. After 15 months, I quit my commodities exchange job to focus more exclusively on writing my novel. [Laughs] I did three years of temp jobs and writing, submitting my work to journals, trying to get my writing in front of agents — all with no luck.

Eventually, I moved back to Cambridge (Mass.) and got into some continuing education creative writing workshops at Emerson and through Harvard Extension. I had to read great short stories (Carver, Richard Ford, Flannery O’Connor). The students in those classes were terriffic. I spent two years in Boston working on writing, then got into grad school at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Literary short stories are a pretty far cry from crime novels. How’d that happen?

Seth Harwood: [Laughs again] I moved to California.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: How do you mean?

Seth Harwood: I moved to California in 2005, got married, taught part time, and wrote the rest of the time. I  tried to write a crime novel. I drew from all the movies, the games and the novels I liked. I threw out the formal literary influences I’d used in my previous writing. Had a great time writing it – and suddenly agents were interested in it.

My writing got better, because I was having a better time writing the stuff.

So, finally, I had these two agents were kind of interested in working with me, but somehow they weren’t quite sure. I worked with them for about 5 months. We went round and round, and then, all of a sudden, it was like they both just backed out, disappeared. Man, I was so frustrated – after all that, to have to go back to square one. I wondered whether there was something else I could do with the book?

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: So how did you figure it out?

Seth Harwood: Around that time, I had published a short story online, and got great feedback and felt successful about that. I thought about doing a novel online, but I thought the audience might not do as well with it as an electronic text-based book. When I was teaching back in Boston, I always had liked books on tape while commuting. All these pieces kind of came together.

What cinched it was, a friend in Boston was a huge fan of Scott Sigler and his science-based horror podcast novels. My buddy told me about Sigler, and it just clicked. I decided podcasting would be a great way to get my writing out to an audience.

My friend, the big Sigler fan friend emailed him – Scott has always been very available to his readers and his listeners, and in return, they are crazy about him. And Scott was just incredible about getting me going. He helped me set up my podcast, showed me how to do everything via iChat. He listened to my early episodes, helped me figure out levels and editing and all of that.

Oh, and I’ve just got to be sure to mention – also was instrumental in helping me get going with my book podcasts. Evo and those guys do so much to help writers, and to get our work into listener’s hands.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: So how did you turn your podcast novel into a traditional publishing deal?

Seth Harwood: I was able to get Jack Wakes Up published by a small press, Breakneck Books. By the time I went through all that with the different literary agents, I thought I should tell them about my podcast, show them my audience size.

So I did what Sigler did, I “bum rushed” the  Amazon sales charts. I chose Palm Sunday last year as the big day, becaue my main character is named Jack Palms. I asked all my podcast listeners to please please buy my book on that Palm Sunday, to bump my sales numbers. Wouldn’t you know — we hit #1 on the Amazon charts in crime and detective books on that Sunday.

My agent wanted to sign me by 8am the next day. And then, the first publisher they pitched to wanted to sign us and publish us. We sold the rights to the book in mid April.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: What role do you think podcasting has played in your success as a writer?

Seth Harwood: One of the great things being in podcasting – really great – is the community of helpfulness we seem to share. That’s something that definitely wasn’t there in grad school. In grad school, you’re surrounded by other serious writers, who are all dissecting your work. You get good constructive comments — but you also get ripped apart. It can wear you down, make you unsure whether your writing is any good.

Now, I’ve been enjoying the warmest response from my listeners, and from other podcast novelists as well. I’m getting all these congratulations emails and things from other podcasters, wanting to help me by promoting my book on their sites and their podcasts….

And podcasting has opened up so many other opportunities for me — and given me situations to help other podcasters, in fact.  Now we’re teaching a class, Scott Sigler and me, taking writiers in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And soon we’re going to start in NY, and at Stanford University in the fall. We take writers, and we show them how to record their work, edit it, publish it on their blogs, get it listed on iTunes. It’s called We started that in February, and are doing another one in June. The one in Stanford this fall will be a two-Saturday seminar. By winter, we’re looking at doing a Stanford class online.
The more people do this, the better off we all are in the long run. The world is big enough for an audience for everyone.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: What do you do on the day your book comes out?

Seth Harwood: Emailing everyone I’ve ever met, telling them to please buy Jack Wakes Up. I will probably have a party all day on Twitter, be in touch with everybody, and then go out and really celebrate that night.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: What else do you want to be sure our readers know about you and your work?

Seth Harwood: I can’t say enough about the lift that the relationship with my audience on line has been. It’s been such an energy boost for me as a writer. To have hundreds, thousands of people reading my stuff, hearing my stuff, it’s enabled me to do better work, and more work, than I ever would have otherwise.

I want to encourage everyone with my experience. It all really started when I tried to find my own way to get my story out. When I opened up to those possibilities, it all happened.

It is hard to suffer rejections and not feel like you should keep revising and changing. For me, the thing that’s worked so well, is showing it directly to an audience (of people who aren’t related to me)….. They are honest with me, but honest with their positive feedback along with the constructive stuff.

That audience appreciation and feedback was so validating to me as a writer – that’s what has inspired me to keep doing that thing I do. I can’t thank my listeners and readers enough.

Their dialogue with me has enabled me to keep writing, not feeling like it would have to be revised over and over in order to ever reach an audience.

Don’t be afraid to give yourself away for free. It doesn’t preclude publishers from wanting to sell your stuff later on. I was giving my pdfs and podcasts away like crazy. I still got a great book deal. It’s all good.

Oh! And one last thing — Also, I want people to see the little video I did on YouTube. It’s like three minutes, an overview of how I podcast my books – and how you can too. [The video is embedded, above.]

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